Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Views of the News, Jan. 28, 2009

Obama meets with Arab media ... Blagojevich takes to the airwaves on a PR blitz ... and, Wikipedia works to bolster its credibility. Panelists: Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis, Betty Winfield, Bob Priddy.

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How famous is Obama?

The current Vanity Fair magazine includes an article that says President Barak Obama is the most famous person who has ever lived. The reason? Well, outside of a little historical amnesia, it's the internet. Author Dee Dee Meyers (formerly of the Bill Clinton White House) says that because of the internet, knowledge about President Obama has penetrated even the most out of the way places. Even very rural people in Africa and Asia know who the President is.

I actually agree with many of the bloggers who commented on the story--probably not. My own personal vote would be for Mohandas Gandhi who, because of where he lived, was better known to people in Asia and African before he became news in the west. I think if you took that knowledge as a percentage of the people alive in the world at that time, Gandhi would be at least as famous as President Obama.

But, having said that, I do wonder why a magazine is printing a story like this. There is no data cited--public opinion polls, etc.--it's just personal observation and anecdote. It's not that well written, and I can't find any independent research. Readers get a provocative headline, and that about it. Surely the editors could have found something else to fill their pages.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Links to this weeks discussion topics

Blagojevich is skipping his impeachment trial on Monday, perhaps assuming he'll have better luck in the court of public opinion.

TechCrunch says YouTube will soon allow content providers to put ads on their content — regardless of who uploaded it.

Do you think the "in the tank" criticism that was leveled at MSNBC was fair? And do you think the image of the network has been resuscitated post-election?

We have opinionated people on MSNBC in that role in primetime. I don't think that is a systemic point of view. NBC News as an organization is not influenced by those passionate, opinionated people that we have on the air.

An interesting collection of how various news outlets are covering the Obama administration's stimulus

Citigroup will not take possession of new aircraft

Wikipedia may make itself harder to edit

Monday, January 26, 2009

Even More Good News: Fact-Challenged Kristol Out at NYT

Wow, it's like Christmas for a progressive journalist who worries a bit about little things like factual veracity: the most fact-challened of the New York Times' op-ed columnists, William Kristol, is taking his propaganda show to the Post.

Don't know what this says about the Post, but I am imagining the Times got tired of running corrections for a column that only had one theme (conservatism good; all else is terror) the whole time anyway.

I think the Washingtonian has it about right:

It's hard to overstate what an embarrassment this was from the start. Not only was Kristol's writing pedestrian and predictable, but he had an unfortunate habit of making obvious factual mistakes, which necessitated frequent corrections. Indeed, at last count, Kristol prompted four corrections in one year -- though, if you want to get picky about it, one of the four included two separate factual errors in the same column, which would bring the total to five.

And that's just counting the demonstrable errors of fact. Errors of judgment were found in practically every piece.

The Times, They Are A Changin'

Each day brings news from Washington, much of it promising. I, of course, cheered wildly as President Obama reversed course on the federal Freedom of Information Act in a strongly worded memo that said that from here on out, the presumption in Washington should be toward openness.

Now comes word that lobbyists in Washington can find no way into the White House...awwwwwwww....

From Roll Call:

President Barack Obama’s new rules restricting the employment of lobbyists are viewed by many on K Street as effectively a ban, with both the spirit and the letter of the order making it nearly impossible for lobbyists who would take senior positions in government to enter public service.

"I haven't seen anybody in the administration with any interest in hiring a lobbyist," one Democratic lobbyist said. "No one I know who is a lobbyist is figuring out a way to get in."

If this is true, it's a signal change, and a new way of doing business in Washington.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Views of the News, Jan. 21, 2009

Reviewing coverage of the Obama inauguration. Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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Links to this week's show topics: the inauguration

Charles offers some excellent links below. Here are a few more with no attempt to be comprehensive or fair. Just my sip from the firehose.

Video of the inaugural address from CBS News (you'll see a commercial before the speech begins).

"News Sites Struggle to Stream Obama Video" from the New York Times

Download the audio from

Photo Galleries from the Washington Post.

"Newspapers to Cash in" from

Front pages from Europe (The Guardian)

Front pages from Asia
(Thomas Crampton blog)

Front pages from the Middle East (Crampton)

400+ pre-inauguration front pages from January 20, 2009 (courtesty

"Obama's Inauguration Speech Relies on the Rhetoric of Responsibility," by Roy Peter Clark from his Poynter blog.

Here's a nice "outside the Beltway" look at print media coverage from the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Impact Editor.

"It's Party Time for for Media Stars, Too" (Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post). He suggests "... it is hard to envision this level of intensity if John McCain were taking the oath of office."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Long, Meaningful Day...

Looking forward to discussing the Inauguration the meantime, here a few good links I have happened across.

ProPublica had a nice analysis piece on the speech here.

A nice review of reviews here.

And look at what the web looked like during the event here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's Not Every Day Prostitution Pops Up in the Morning Paper...

or does it?

A fascinating column in Editor & Publisher by our very own Sandy Davidson raises a question worth discussing...

so long as prostitution is a crime and patronizing a prostitute is also a crime, should newspapers run ads that clearly hawk p
rostitution services? What is the difference between running ads for prostitution and running ads for illegal gambling or illegal drugs?

The full article is here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Views of the News, Jan. 14, 2009

Is Hillary Clinton getting a free pass from the media in her confirmation hearings? ... Obama weighs in on the digital TV transition. ... And, should Columbia's school superintendent process be more transparent? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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Links to this week's show topics

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post: "Hillary's Dull Day."

Sharon Theimer, Associated Press: "Clinton acted on concerns of husband's donors."

AP Video from YouTube: "Will Obama's Inaugural Address Become Memorable?

John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: "Obama Asks Congress to Delay DTV Transition."

Hank Waters, Columbia Daily Tribune: "Police chief selection: Lessons for the school board."

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Student newspaper in Faribault goes to Web to avoid censorship."

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Word No One Dares Mention...

I didn't hear it at Gov. Jay Nixon's swearing-in, and I doubt sincerely I'll hear it at President-elect Obama's either.

It's the third rail of American politics, despite its instrumental role in lifting us out of every significant recession we have ever faced.

That dirty word?


That's right, tax, as in, why is there absolutely no talk of taxes unless it is in the context of cutting taxes? Is there no editorial board in Missouri, or the United States, for that matter, courageous enough to throw tax increases on the table?

In Missouri, we'll apparently cut social services, let our public schools stagnate at best and gut our university system before we'll even discuss the "t word..." Madness, I say....


Thursday, January 8, 2009

The push polls keep coming

I thought with the election over that I would no longer be subject to push polls.

Last night proved me wrong. I was push polled by none other than Mike Huckabee, who introduced himself on the phone as the former Governor of Arkansas rather than a talk show host (current job) or recent GOP candidate for President.

The topic: potential federal regulation and possible funding of family planning agencies--or at least, that's how the poll began. The introduction included a claim that President-elect Obama has promised to provide certain sorts of federal funding to various agencies, among them Planned Parenthood. I have no idea if this claim is in any way true.

However, it didn't take more than a couple of questions for the real issue to become clear: abortion. I was asked whether I agreed with statues that would require those under 18 to obtain parental consent before obtaining an abortion. I was asked whether I agree with statutes that would prohibit what the anti-abortion movement has erroneously labeled partial-birth abortions. In all, I was asked about 20 questions on various aspects of the issue--each questioned framed as a "yes" or "no" response and many including erroneous or unsubstantiated assertions.

What's wrong here. There are at least a couple of things. First, Huckabee doesn't really want my opinion. In fact, he was a recording. I have no idea what was "done" with my opinion, because I was never told. This is deceptive. As a citizen, I should know why I'm being polled. Second, the questions should at least adhere to the facts. In the best of all possible worlds, they should include context. And, they certainly should provide me with more options than "yes" or "no". For example, I should be able to tell my supposed questioner that young women who are the victims on incest--and I wrote those stories as a police reporter--should not have to obtain permission from their molester to obtain an abortion. But, there was no place for that sort of thinking, logic or dialog in this supposed search for my opinion.

But, as a journalist, this poll gives me another sort of clue. There's a story here. What group in Missouri is planning what sort of political initiative? How are those who answer in a way the "pollster" deems appropriate being placed on mailing lists, fund raising lists, and in other sorts of political support groups? Who paid for this "poll"?

As much attention as we give to the internet, we also need to remember that the telephone--after the front porch and the back fence--remains an important social networking tool. I also think it remains just as newsworthy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Views of the News, Jan. 7, 2009

Is the Obama "honeymoon" over? ... Is there bias in coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict? ... And, what impact is the economy having on print media? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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Outsourcing your coverage

American television viewers will note that American news crews are not being allowed in Gaza to cover the war there.

Last night, NBC announced that it had hired a local (meaning inside Gaza) journalist to provide video of the events. The network supplemented this work with a phone interview with the physician who was the protagonist in a story about the impact of the war on medical care, hospital care and emergency care for wounded civilians in Gaza.

What does this choice explain about television news and news reporting in general?

Journalists are biased toward information THEY discover--even if that information is not as good, complete or accurate as what might be available in other news outlets.

Part of this unadmitted but very real bias is an issue of quality control: news outlets that are serious about their journalism can fact check, examine, and just plain have time to think about stories that are produced in house--even under deadline pressure. That's a good reason to be biased in favor of the work of your own staff.

But, a less laudatory reason is ego. Rather than give readers, listeners and viewers the best available information--regardless of source--news organizations too often settle for the best information THEY can uncover, even if it is demonstrably inferior to what is available elsewhere. Journalists used to explain this result away by noting that competition, over the long haul, makes for better journalism even if individual stories are not always up to snuff. This was always weak reasoning, but in the age of the internet, it's absurd.

So, what choices did NBC have? Obviously, the choice the network made was to outsource some of its reporting--probably in an effort to maintain some quality control and the perception of objectivity.

Another option: spend the same money to purchase coverage from the Arab television networks--the only broadcast media outlets currently being allowed in Gaza. Why might this option be unacceptable? Because the networks may have reasoned that US audiences would find content generated by Arab-owned networks potentially biased and hence not meeting standards of objectivity.

Or spend the same money and purchase coverage from another US news organization--for example, the New York Times. This option would have deprived the network of compelling video--which drives television--but have told potentially the same story.

None of these choice is ideal from the networks' point of view. From the viewers' perspective--and thanks to the web--we can compare NBC's coverage with that provided by the Arab journalists and come to our own conclusions.

One final point: shutting down news coverage of this conflict is, long-term, not going to help the residents of Gaza or of Israel who have endured so much. What is needed is more journalism--and from lots of perspectives.

Topic links for this week's show

  • Letters to Editor & Publisher on Media Coverage of Israel and Gaza
  • New York Times Selling Front-Page Ads from Michael Calderone's blog on Politico
  • Times Charging $75-100,000 for Front Page Ads by Holly Sanders and Keith Kelly at the New York Post
  • End of the New York TImes? by Michael Hirschorn in The Atlantic
  • Missourian to Print Only Five Days a Week by Tim Lloyd in the Missourian
  • Internet Overtakes Newspapers as News Outlet from the Pew Research Center
  • How Newspapers Tried to Invent the Web by Jack Shafer in Slate
  • SF TV Station Cancels Interview with Authors of Book Critical of TV News by Don Day on
  • Sanjay Gupta May be Next Surgeon General by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post
  • New Theme Music

    What do you think of our funky new opening and closing music for Views of the News? It's from a composition called "Home Alone" by Joi Veer. If you'd like to hear the entire piece, here's a link from

    Monday, January 5, 2009

    So we are leaving

    It's sometimes impossible to know when journalists have made a good ethical decision because the result is something that does not appear in print or on air.

    Such is the case this morning on NBC.

    The background: As the entire country knows, today is the first day that President-elect Barak Obama's two daughters will attend their new, Washington-D. C. school. This is a minor story--but a newsworthy marker of the impending change in political power.

    However, covering it raises privacy concerns, particularly about two children who have a lot of adjusting to do both with and without the presence of journalists, crews and cameras. Here the ethical question is straightforward: how much and what sort of coverage to provide of this event.

    In my view, NBC made the correct choice. It reported that the Obama girls had left the White House for their new school--both with video of the kids leaving their temporary hotel residence and with what broadcast journalists call a "stand up" in front of the new school.

    And, then, the reporters and camera crews left. NBC won't be airing footage of the girls as they walk into their new school.

    Good call. The public needs to know that the girls are going to a new school. We don't need to watch them enter it. The girls do need to begin to make this tremendous adjustment in some privacy.

    One example of journalists doing something right--even if it means the curious among us don't have quite every picture we might want.